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Towards a More Total War: ‘Gentlemanly Warfare’ and the Rise of the Nation-State

One of the most controversial figures in the history of the United States is William Tecumseh Sherman. For his direction of a single campaign in the fall and early winter of 1864, Sherman has been reviled by nigh-half the country while providing military historians endless fodder for debating the origins of the philosophy of ‘total war.’ Even and perhaps especially for his detractors, Sherman’s strategy of destroying (supposedly) non-military and civilian resources is seen as somehow original, a new and innovative way of waging war that would come to dominate the twentieth century. There’s only one problem with that conventional wisdom: it’s patently ridiculous.... Read More
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Humanity in the Face of Annihilation: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

Last Thursday we had the great pleasure of seeing Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk. Chronicling the events of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and French forces from the beaches of Dunkirk after they had been beaten and surrounded by German forces in 1940, Dunkirk is a war movie unlike any we have yet seen.... Read More
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Civil War, Round One: Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence

As some of you may have noticed in my recent post on American empire, I’m not exactly a fan of the exceptionalist myths that we Americans replace our history with. I became excited, then, when I learned about a new book from the J. Carroll Amundsen Professor of British History at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Holger Hoock. Entitled Scars of Independence, Hoock’s work is meant for both public and academic audiences and seeks to restore the central and ubiquitous position of violence to our sanitized and whitewashed tradition of the American Revolution. Reminding his readers that the war was just as much a civil war between Patriots and Loyalists as it was a struggle for independence, Hoock embarks on a grisly account of just how bitterly the Revolutionary War was waged.... Read More
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Episodic History: Bryan’s Picks

In just a few days, Friday will see the premier of the much-anticipated movie Dunkirk, which tells the story of the World War II battle of the same name in which British and French forces were evacuated across the English Channel by civilian watercraft under the guns of the Third Reich. When done well, all of us here at Concerning History love seeing history on the big and small screens, as it seems to bring the past to life with a vibrancy and immediacy lacking in other media as well as powerfully impact public perception and memory of events. The number of history-related series on television or streaming services especially has blossomed in recent years. We all have our special interests, though, and can’t help but pine for some of our pet topics to get the attention we know they deserve. In what we hope will become a long-running series, I’ve decided to pull together a list of a few historical events and periods I feel would make for highly compelling or necessary television.... Read More
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Inexorable Fate: Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom Series

Television is never short on stories set in the Middle Ages, and medieval Britain especially sees more than its fair share of adaptations. It is rare, however, to have two shows running concurrently that cover the same time period. Such is now the case with History Channel’s Vikings and BBC/Netflix's The Last Kingdom. We will certainly review the former on some future date, but as the second season of the latter aired on Netflix this spring, and I have recently caught up with book series on which it’s based, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review one of my recent favorites.... Read More
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Finding John Brown’s Body

There is a place in North Elba, New York, where pine trees encircle a meadow. Looming over the pines are two ski jump towers used during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. From the parking lot can be seen a small enclosure, a weathered barn, a wooden farmhouse, and a pond. Standing before it all is a larger-than-life statue depicting an unbowed and unbroken John Brown with his arm over the shoulder of an African American child.... Read More
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Dueling Perspectives: John Keay and J.A.G. Roberts’s Histories of China

Some months ago, as Francis and I were discussing a potential piece for the blog, I realized I needed to brush up on my grasp of Chinese history. Perusing the shelves of my local library, I happened upon two promising volumes. The first, China: A History, was penned by esteemed journalist John Keay, while the second, A Concise History of China, was written by English academic J.A.G. Roberts. Faced with a more public, accessible volume on the one hand and an academic’s historical survey on the other, I decided to read them both and then compare them in a rare tandem review.... Read More
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States’ Rights, the Slave Power Conspiracy, and the Causes of the Civil War

Recently I was reading a textbook’s account for the cause of the Civil War. This textbook was attempting to wade a middle ground between the two major arguments for the Civil War’s cause: slavery (and its extension) versus states’ rights. While the States’ Rights argument is definitively refuted by the primary document evidence of the secession crisis, this textbook made the following claim: that the issue of states’ rights was connected to the right of individuals in the states’ to own slaves. I decided that such a claim was worth some thoughtful debunking.... Read More